Meet The Fulani Man Who Became Mayor of Enugu

Umaru Altine

August 12, 2020

In 1952, a Fulani man from Sokoto, Malam Umaru Altine became the first elected Mayor (equivalence of a Local Government Chairman) of a pre-independence Enugu. Enugu was then at the time an important Igbo city in the eastern region of the country. It was christened ‘The Coal City’ because of its significant coal mining activities.

In 1958, there were about  8,000 coal miners in the city. The city was also the administrative capital of the eastern region, having been named in 1938. Enugu later became the capital of the secessionist Biafra State in 1967.

So how did a Fulani cattle rearer from Sokoto became the Mayor of such an important predominantly Igbo speaking City? Before that question is answered, here are some few facts about Umaru Altine, the Fulani Mayor of Enugu.

Facts About The Fulani Mayor of Enugu

1. A Descendant of Danfodio

Malam Umaru Altine was born in Sifawa, in Bodinga Sokoto Province in the Old Northern Region. He was a descendant of Usman Danfodio, the great reformer of Islam. He was also a distant cousin of The Sultan of Sokoto, Sir Abubakar III (1938-1988). In fact, some of his children were raised under The Sultan. He also raised some of the Sultan’s kids as his own just like tradition demands. He could have been The Sultan also, but he chooses the world of trading, travel, adventure and politics, and cattle herding. His love for traveling took him to Enugu, where he settled.

The Northern Kingdom Where Men Can’t Rule

2. Worked In So Many Places

According to sources, Malam Umaru Altine worked in Gaskiya Corporation in Zaria prior to his election as a Mayor. His adventure also took him to work briefly at the Railways in Zaria. He later joined the Army where he was taken to Enugu. After his military service, he opted to remain in Enugu. Malam Umaru Altine also loved traveling and herding cattle.

3. Not a Stranger to Politics

Umaru Altine was not a stranger to politics. He contested elections in Tambuwal, Sokoto Province under the platform of an opposition party—even though his relative, the Sardauna of Sokoto was the leader of the ruling Northern Peoples Congress—and was defeated. He eventually departed for Enugu in The Eastern Region. While there, he quickly became popular with the locals. He also advocated for justice in the allocation of market stalls, an act which endeared him to the various market women groups. These contributed to his rise as the first Mayor of Enugu when the town was granted the municipality in 1956.

According to a special announcement made on 26th March 1954 by the Programme Announcer, Nigerian Broadcasting Service Enugu, Umaru Altine was shown as having contested against D.T Inyang, scoring 117 votes to the latter’s 53. He was eventually elected unopposed in 1956, a testament to his popularity and good policies. He, however, lost support when the councilors who usually elect the Mayor resigned in 1957.

4. Cordial Relationship with Zik

Umaru Altine had a very cordial relationship with Nnamdi Azikwe, The premier of the Eastern Region and later President of Nigeria. Zik —as he was fondly known— was a true Nationalist and a Pan-Nigerian. He wanted to build a structure whereby all Nigerians —regardless of where they belong— feel at home in any part of Nigeria. He, therefore, became Altine’s mentor and played an important role in his emergence as the Mayor of Enugu.

Malam Altine was also the President of the Enugu local branch of the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerons (NCNC), a party in which Zik was the President—a testament to his great relationship with Zik. Throughout his tenure, the duo enjoyed a great relationship. When Altine lost the support of the councilors who elect the Mayor in 1957, Zik just returning from the Constitutional Conference in London in August 1957 and made attempts to put the house back in order to no avail. Altine was eventually succeeded by Mr. LBC Ezechi, a trader from Udi. 

5. Embracing Both Cultures

While being a Fulani and a relative of the Sultan, this didn’t deter Umaru Altine from embracing a culture different from his. Even though he still wore his Babbar Riga followed and a turban, he wore suits when the occasion demands it. He also attends church when his mayor-ship duties called for it. He was willing to re-adjust at the same time retaining his identity. Malam Umaru related freely with the people and take part in their activities. He loved Nsala soup, a popular dish of the Enugu people. To cap it all, he married an Igbo lady named Esther.

6. A Street Was Named After Him

For all his services to the Coal city, Malam Umaru Altine has a street named after him in the Coal Camp area of Enugu during the First Republic. He was also the object of many praises and tributes. His family was once invited by a Chairman of Enugu North Local Government Agu Gab Agu, to celebrate the achievement of their late father.

Malam Altine’s election as a Mayor of a predominantly Igbo and Christian city, while being a Fulani, and a Muslim from the North is remarkable and deserves more commendation. It demonstrates our sense of unity and tolerance as a country. However, some factors contributed to Altine’s rise as a Mayor.

Factors That Contributed to Altine’s Rise as a Mayor

1. The Pan-Nigerian Ideology of the NCNC

The National Council of Nigeria and the Camerons, NCNC (Later, National Council for Nigerian Citizens) was touted by many as the only National party in Nigeria then. Founded in 1944, with Herbert Macaulay as its first president, and Azikiwe as its secretary, the NCNC was made up of nationalist parties, cultural associations, and labor movements. Altine’s position was also strengthened with the alliance formed between the NCNC and NEPU led by Aminu Kano.

2. Party In-house Fighting

There was in-house fighting in the party as Udi-Nsukka-Agwu United Front (UNAUF), a body of indigenes nominated their candidates for the elections helped strengthened Umaru Altine’s case. The UNAUF nominated their candidates to stand for elections during the Enugu Urban District Council Elections against Altine’s branch of the NCNC. The executive branch committee of the party refused to endorse six councilors for the race because they were backed by the (UNAUF). The inhouse fighting paved way for the NCNC which won the elections with 15 seats while UNAUF went with 10.

3. The Zik Factor

Nnamdi Azikwe as the Premier of The Eastern Region had a lot of roles to play in who emerges as the Mayor of Enugu town. Enugu was then an important town in the Eastern Region, and the Premier did all he could to ensure his party’s candidate won the election. Ziks’s charisma and popularity helped in electing Altine as the first Mayor.

4. The Independence Fever

In 1953, A motion was tabled for Nigeria’s independence in 1956. Even though unsuccessful, the motion succeeded in awakening the desire for self-rule in the hearts of many Nigerians. This led many to actions that will advance the course of Nigeria’s independence. The election of a Northern Nigerian Fulani man by the South serves as an indication of our eagerness to manage our affairs. It also signaled to the British colonialists a sign of deep cooperation and unity among the regions.

At the time, all regions can be said to be working together to achieve a common purpose; Nigeria’s Independence. This can be further buttressed by the fact that both the Muslims and Hindus joined hands to push for India’s independence. Not long after the aim was achieved, tensions were high and the nation had to be partitioned into India and Pakistan to accommodate each of the warring sides.

4. The Popularity of the Candidate

Malam Umaru Altine, as mentioned earlier was popular in his own right, through his free mixing with the people despite being from another tribe. He also fought for the rights of the market women, a fact which contributed to his success in the elections. His simplicity, humbleness, and easy-going nature also endeared him to the electorate.

5. The Pastoral Nature of The Fulani

The Fulani are known for moving about in search of pasture for their cattle. This makes them resettle in so many places in the country—a trait they share with the Igbos. The Igbos from eastern Nigeria are mostly into business and can be found in all parts of the country where. This makes it easier for them to accommodate an ‘alien’ as a Mayor of one of their cities.

While all these factors aided Umaru Altine to become the First and only Fulani Mayor of Enugu, one wonders if such feat can be repeated nowadays. Do you think this is possible?

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